As the civil war in Syria deepens, American war hawks are using recent atrocities to push for direct U.S. military intervention against the Syrian government, according to observers who warn that further escalation will only worsen what has been dubbed "the most dangerous and destructive crisis on the planet."
At The Nation on Thursday, journalist James Carden wrote that "neoconservative advocacy groups" are citing a new report by the United Nations' Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in order to craft a narrative that "asserts that the widespread suffering of the Syrian people could have been averted if only the [Obama] administration had intervened in the Syrian conflict sooner; if only President [Barack] Obama simply had not reneged on his 'red line' pledge and unleashed a full scale, Iraq-style intervention, surely the situation would be better than it is today."
The OPCW report, which contains new accusations of chemical-weapons use by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, "provide[s] the war party in the United States with the perfect cudgel with which to beat the administration for backing off of the 'red line' policy the president spelled out in 2012," Carden argued.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton, given her track record as secretary of state, would seem to agree with this line of criticism. In July, her campaign released a statement promising a "full review" of U.S. policy regarding Syria, raising the hopes of Beltway hawks that, in the words of one former high-ranking Pentagon official, "a Clinton administration will not shrink from making clear to the world exactly what the Assad regime is." Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, have repeatedly endorsed the idea of implementing a no-fly zone over northern Syria. Experience should tell us that no-fly zones serve as a prelude to wider war, as they did in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Libya.
Indeed, FAIR contributor Adam Johnson wrote last week:
Rarely mentioned is the fact that establishing these zones would require U.S. bombing of Syria's air capacity, including infrastructure, planes, buildings, possibly troops. That would, in effect, be a declaration of war. How Russia would respond is anyone’s guess, but it would certainly heighten tensions between Washington and Syria's longtime ally (which also happens to have the world’s largest nuclear arsenal). One 2012 Pentagon estimate found that enforcing a no-fly zone would involve at least "70,000 American servicemen"; another estimate insisted such an effort would involve "hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers." These messy details are hardly ever mentioned when the do-something crowd calls for "action" in Syria.
Furthermore, Johnson argued,
almost no one calling for a ramped-up war in Syria has offered a clear indication of what it would entail. What are the risks? What is the endgame? Is there a realistic alternative to jihadi extremists seizing power, or—perhaps even worse—continued brutal warfare between rival militias after Assad is gone? We should be wary of pundits who use the horrors of Aleppo to rush Washington into bombing, just as they did with Iraq’s alleged WMDs and Gadhafi's hypothetical massacres.
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Of course, as commentator Jeffrey Sachs wrote this week, the U.S. hardly sitting on the sidelines in Syria right now—though the public is largely "left in the dark" as to the extent of U.S. involvement.
Among the questions that should be asked, Sachs posited: "How big are the ongoing CIA-Saudi operations? How much is the U.S. spending on Syria per year? What kinds of arms are the U.S., Saudis, Turks, Qataris, and others supplying to the Syrian rebels? Which groups are receiving the arms? What is the role of US troops, air cover, and other personnel in the war?"
"The U.S. government isn't answering these questions," Sachs said, "and mainstream media aren't pursuing them, either."
In fact, wrote Middle East analyst and author Helena Cobban earlier this month, the corporate media merely "continues to peddle simple, uninformed pictures of 'Assad bad; opposition good,' which have ended up buttressing the case the administration continues to make—though with some welcome 'wobbliness' over the past year—that 'Assad must go' as a precondition to anything else happening in Syria."
A closer look would reveal that the Obama administration has "acquiesced to its allies funding and supplying a group of unsavory sectarian armed groups to overthrow the Assad regime," investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out this week.
This has been counterproductive to say the least, Porter said: "It took a remarkable degree of denial and self-deception for the Obama administration to believe that it was somehow acting to rescue the Syrian people from the bloodletting when it was doing precisely the opposite."
And widening U.S. intervention would only make things worse, he concluded. "No matter how brutal its rule and its war tactics have been," Porter wrote, "a war to overthrow the Assad regime could only plunge the country into a terrible sectarian bloodbath."
For his part, Sachs argues that "the American people want security—including the defeat of ISIS—but they also recognize the long and disastrous history of U.S.-led regime-change efforts, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia."
"This is the main reason why the U.S. security state refuses to tell the truth," Sachs wrote, offering a hint as to how to undermine the hawks. "The American people would call for peace rather than perpetual war. Obama has a few months left in office to repair his broken legacy. He should start by leveling with the American people."